"The market for sat com (satellite communications) is the one that cannot be served by WiFi. Even in developed countries like the US, about 10 per cent of households will never have access through terrestrial technology like fibre or wireless... This last 10 per cent - unserved or underserved, we’ve been trying to develop technology using sat com to serve this population," Pradman Kaul, president of Hughes Network Systems told ET.
The high cost of satellite broadband is seen as an impediment to adoption, but prices could come down if private players are allowed to set up satellites, taking the load off the sole supplier- the Department of Space. "Economically, we have been charging customers a base rate of $50-60 a month and this provides a certain number of gigabits and capacity, pretty comparable to terrestrial technologies," Kaul said.
Another hurdle to large scale adoption of technology in India has been the lack of implementation of the sat comm policy, which has been in place since the year 2000, but has not granted approval to any private player so far.
"The policy isn’t a hurdle as both the FDI and the Satcom policy allow Indian registered companies with FDI to establish and operate satellites in India. A company interested in setting up a satellite system must also obtain permission from the Department of Space. However, till date, no one has been granted permission under this policy but we are hopeful our proposal will be favourably considered," said Kaul.
Last year, the government gave in-principle approval for ground segment of a GSAT-11spacecraft at a cost of Rs 1,117 crore, which can be used for services such as broadband and VSATs, especially in rural areas. The satellite is targeted for launch this year.
Indian Space Research Organisation chairman AS Kiran Kumar said last year that India’s space capacity of 34 working satellites is barely half of what the country needs and is severely limited to meet increasing demands from the Centre. It is here that players like Hughes see an opportunity for themselves.
The fact that Department of Space, which gives permissions for satellite communications operations is also an operator of sat comm services, could be one of the reasons why permissions under the policy have been slow to be approved.
"Governments across the world have been deregulating and launching their own satellites and creating businesses with it," said Kaul. Hughes provides satellite broadband in Europe and Brazil.
Education and learning, health and finance and banking are some more areas where high quality ubiquitous broadband access through satellite could be used. Others areas such as like cellular backhaul, entertainment are among other application areas.